- Jim Otte Staff Writer
With two local civil rights leaders at his side, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, Wednesday denounced racism in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville and expressed disappointment with how President Donald Trump has responded to the turmoil there.
Turner said in strong terms that there is no room for racist hatred in the Dayton community or the nation.
“We renounce racism, violence and hatred,” he said. “Our actions today may be symbolic but our dedication to our community and cultural diversity is not.”
Turner pointed to how the city responded to the Ku Klux Klan in 1994 when he was mayor and the Klan was about to hold a rally on Courthouse Square. He credited former Dayton NAACP President Jessie Gooding with coming up a plan that helped preserve the peace.
The city encouraged people to stay away from the Klan gathering and instead attend a unity rally the following day on the same spot, Turner said. When the Klan arrived, they had about a dozen supporters and were met by a few hundred counter-demonstrators. Small skirmishes broke out but there was no major violence.
At the following day’s unity rally, people poured water from the stage onto the square to signify the cleansing of the hatred left behind by the Klan.
Gooding, who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s, said King today would be upset with the violence and bloodshed in Charlottesville.
“I think he would cry,” Gooding said. “I’m crying to see the clock turning back.”
Turner, who until now has largely stood quiet while others in his party criticized Trump, took the president to task for his handling of the Charlottesville violence.
“I am deeply disappointed that an issue that is so clear is so difficult for President Trump,” he said.
The president had at first issued a response to the Charlottesville violence that drew criticism for pointing the finger of blame, not just at the KKK, but also at counter-demonstrators. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides - on many sides,” Trump said on Sunday.
Later, Trump called out the Klan and Nazi groups by name in a formal statement from the White House. But in a question and answer session with reporters in New York Tuesday, Trump again blamed both sides for what happened, sparking more outrage from critics, including some Republicans.
Turner said he would like to see some clarity and unifying leadership from the president.
“This needs to be clear for the president. You can’t pull the country together if things aren’t clear and unambiguous. Evil is evil and there’s nothing good about it. The president needs to pull the community together. He needs to have clarity about this. And certainly our community does and if the President looks out from the White House he is going to see a country that rejects racism and looks for unity and they are looking for it in their president,” Turner said.
The current NAACP president, Derrick Foward, said the counter-demonstrators last weekend were trying to protect the advances made by civil rights leaders of multiple generations. Unlike past protests of the 1960s, Foward said, the people opposing the Klan are much more diverse.
“What you are seeing today are multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-cultural activists who want to make sure the country turns a leaf, turns a corner,” Foward said.
Turner said details of how Dayton dealt with the Klan in 1994 needs to be taught in Dayton Public Schools. The message to students and the nation should be, “Look, we’ve done it,” Turner said. “We know how to deal with these forces, Dayton style. We have civil rights leaders. We know how to answer to this and we know how to speak with one voice.”